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By Randy Mains

How’s this for an observation? On a global scale the USA is not a role model for HEMS even though the commercial concept of a helicopter air ambulance began right here in America.  Does that shock you?  It shouldn’t if you’ve watched over the years as I have the appalling accident rate the industry has suffered over a third of a century. 

But I’m not here to deliver bad news (for a change).  I’m here to deliver the ‘good news’ and it really is good news:  The accident rate can be reduced and it will cost the industry very little, just a little classroom time and an adjustment in collective attitude which can be accomplished if everyone buys into the time-proven concepts of Crew Resource Management.  The FAA must think that’s the case too because they have now mandated that all crewmembers operating under part 135, unscheduled air-carrier operations, be given CRM training which of course encompasses the HEMS programs out there.  Hallelujah! Heck, if the US Coast Guard can reduce its accident rate by 70-percent after introducing CRM into their organization, the HEMS industry can do it too.

I am a Crew Resource Management assessor, that is, I evaluate good and bad CRM when I see it in the cockpit. I have learned all the elements of CRM because I have been exposed to CRM for 28-years.  I was made to take my first CRM class in January 1985 when I was hired to fly for the Royal Oman Police in the Sultanate of Oman to set up a country-wide HEMS program there. 

When I joined the Police Air Wing the helicopter side was run by 12 highly-experienced British pilots formally from the British forces all of whom had flown commercially in the weather-challenging IFR environment on the North Sea.  You could say that the Brits were ahead of their time.  When it comes to CRM, they still are, an observation I will expand on in a moment.

I am a proponent for change in HEMS in America because, in my mind, people are dying needlessly.  I am certain that the accident rate would be reduced significantly if the principles of CRM were followed by all stakeholders, and I am talking from management on down, touching anyone who has any influence on the safe conduct of a flight.  The key is that management must buy into the concept and support it fully otherwise any CRM program is doomed to failure.

When I leaned that the FAA had mandated CRM training be complied with by March 22, of next year, I saw this as a great opportunity to personally make a difference in a HEMS system that is in my mind broken albeit fixable with the right attitude so I decided to take a CRM train-the-trainer course. I approached our CRM instructors at Abu Dhabi Aviation to ask for their guidance as to what course, in their opinion, was the best CRM train-the-trainer course out there.  Both men agreed that if I wanted a top-notch quality, world-class CRM train-the-trainer course, one recognized by the FAA, EU-OPS, the CAA, Canada Air Transport and JAR-OPS, I should go to England because they have been teaching CRM train-the-trainer courses for sixteen years!  Let me repeat that, sixteen years!  

So during one of my regular six-week breaks from my job in the Middle East I enrolled in a 5-day train-the-trainer course with Global Air Training in Cheshire, England, not far from Manchester. There were thirteen of us on the course.  There was a recently retired British Airways 747 captain, an Airbus 330 captain from Romania, an F-16 pilot from Belgium, a Nimrod anti-submarine pilot currently serving in the British Royal Air Force, two helicopter pilots from Belgium, one an aviation psychologist, a flight operations manager working for an airline in Ghana, West Africa, a helicopter pilot from Holland, two senior cabin attendants from Romania, a senior cabin attendant from Australia working for the Bahraini Royal Flight and a British special forces Chinook crew chief flying in Afghanistan.

The class lasted from 9am to 5pm every day with a half-hour lunch provided on the premises with no less than 3-5 hours of homework required each night to prepare for the next day’s lesson.  It was surely no holiday.
We, ‘delegates’ as we were termed, first had to learn the art of facilitation which is a lot different from instructing.  To facilitate effectively one must learn to ‘guide’ the participants so they come up with the answer themselves.  Everyone must contribute.  Doing that ensures they then buy into the concepts presented. 

One of the tests a facilitator has to continually ask themselves is, “Am I talking more than the class?”  If the answer is yes then he or she needs to speak less and let the class members speak more.  That‘s how attitudes are changed.  Attitudes are not changed by being preached to. 

During the course each of us were asked to facilitate one ten minute presentation, a 25-minute presentation and on the last day we each had to give a 45-minute presentation using facilitation on a particular air crash we had chosen from the 140 or so investigations they had in their school archives.  Our 45-minute presentation was video-taped so that each of us had a record of how many Ummms and Ahhhs and You-knows we’d all said. 

On the last day, when it was time to say our goodbyes, every one of us agreed it was one of the most intense courses we had ever signed up for.  We also agreed it was one of most worthwhile courses we’d ever taken and couldn’t wait to get out there and spread the ‘good news’ and, hopefully, enhance the safety cultures in our respective organizations. 

Speaking personally, I know CRM works, I’ve seen it work and if the knowledge I can impart saves the lives of just one HEMS flight crew then, for me, it will all have been worth it.
 

Posted in: Opinion-Editorial

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